Years ago in a Nike commercial, Charles Barkley declared, “I am not a role model.” With this commercial Barkley set ablaze a controversy among sports enthusiasts in regards to a question that is still burning: should athletes be viewed as role models? Barkley argued that kids should look up to moms and dads, teachers, and such. He further declared, “I am not a role model. I am a professional basketball player. I am paid to wreak havoc on the court. Parents should be role models.” There is much irony behind that commercial in that Nike paid Charles Barkley an exurbanite amount of money to be a role model and to influence others, at least in as much, in the choice of tennis shoes that they would buy.
One dictionary defines “role model” this way: a person whose actions set an example or are copied by others. Through this dictionary definition of role model we find that not only are moms and dads and teachers role models, but also athletes, Sunday school worker, policemen, firemen, and everyone is included in this definition. It is someone whose actions set an example for others or are copied by others. Undoubtedly you are a role model for someone and it is important and vital that we embrace this great responsibility that God has given us.
Let us consider to whom you are a role model. For some of you it is your children or your grandchildren. They are looking to you and they are influenced by your actions as they seek to immolate what you do and what you say. For others of you who are children, perhaps you have a younger brother or sister who is looking up to you and who is influenced by your actions. You might not even be thinking that they are doing that, but that is precisely what they do; they look to their older brothers and sisters to find out how life should be lived and how to figure it all our.
For others of you, you are role models to students in a Sunday school class or in an AWANA group. I remember as a child I had a very idyllic view of my Sunday school teachers. I considered that Sunday school teachers and church leaders were not touched by earthly corruption or overtaken by any sins. This might not have been an entirely accurate view of Sunday school teachers but that is what I thought and that is what I expected. I am very thankful that I didn’t have any church leader or Sunday school teacher in my life that broke this example in a grave way or a way that became noticeable to me.
For others of you, you are role models to friends, employees, or co-workers whom who have lived your life out before and they have grown to esteem and respect you. They watch what you say, the attitudes you hold, and what you do, but you are a role model for someone.
The Apostle Paul reveled in the opportunity to help others by being a spiritual role model and an example. To the church in Corinth he would write (1 Corinthians 4:16, NASB):
Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.
To the church at Philippi he would write (Philippians 3:17, NASB):
Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.
Paul commended the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:6, NASB) to:
…became imitators of us and of the Lord (Jesus)…
In Acts 20, Paul provides us with a very personal picture of how he lived out his life as a spiritual role model and as an example for others to follow. He knew that people were looking to him and at him. His life helps us to know how we can be spiritual role models and godly examples. Many think that if we simply steer clear of the major sins, adultery or some criminal act; or if we merely go to church, read our Bible, or pray that we have done enough to be a spiritual role model, but Paul’s testimony reveals much more. In fact, this passage reveals four specific traits of a spiritual role model as evidenced by the life of Paul. We will look at two in this study and the other two in the following study.
The first trait of a spiritual role model is this: spiritual role models possess a commitment to humble service. We look briefly at Verses 13 through 16 to get a context. Luke records,
13 We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot.
Remember that Paul was in Troas and he sent his ministry team ahead on the ship. It actually takes longer to sail from Troas to Assos than it does to walk. Why did Paul send his team ahead by way of ship and he choose to take the ten hour walk by himself? The answer is that we don’t know! My guess is that after a long period of ministry, ministering with people and to people, Paul needed some time he could spend with God alone. He saw this ten hour window as an opportunity where he would not have anyone that he would have to talk with or to and that he could focus on his walk with the Lord; he could pray to God, he could meditate on the Scriptures that he had memorized, and he could learn from God’s Spirit. For whatever reason, he sent his team on ahead via a ship and he chose to walk this route. We do know that Paul made the best use of his time.
In Verse 14, we continue,
14 When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. 15 The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Kios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus. 16 Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.
To get to Miletus they had to sail right past Ephesus and they could have docked and spent some time there. Paul had been with the Ephesian church for three years. It had been many months since he had seen them last, so it was possible for him to pay them one more visit, but he knew that if he stopped in Ephesus it would be weeks catching up with the people. It was better for him to sail right on by to Miletus, which was about thirty miles south of Ephesus.
Once Paul is in Miletus, what does he do? We see in Verse 17,
From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.
He knew that there were some people in Ephesus that he wanted to talk to one more time and they were the elders, the spiritual leaders, of the church. So, he sent couriers inviting the elders to come to Miletus to spend some time with him before he set sail for Jerusalem to enjoy the Feast of Pentecost.
Let’s look at Verses 18 and 19,
18 When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears…
He reminded them that he set a godly example for them; how to live their life before God in faith and how to serve God faithfully in leading the church. They saw how Paul lived day-in and day-out for three years and they were able to recognize the example that he set for them. Spiritual role models possess a commitment to humble service and the Apostle Paul exemplified the commitment to serving God. This commitment is much needed today, particularly in the lives of spiritual role models. Too often believers had a convenience of humble service but they did not have a commitment to humble service; that-is-to-say, if there was time on their schedule that opened up, they would gladly serve the Lord, or if there was room on their calendar they would gladly set aside some of their energy and some of their time to do God’s work. That is a convenience of humble service and not a commitment.
A commitment says that we don’t care what else is happening in our life, but one thing we will do is serve the Lord. That is a commitment and that is what takes place first in the priority of a believer’s life.
The word “commitment” means different things to different people in our day. I like the story of a young man who was writing a note of his commitment to his girlfriend. As he pours out his heart of his devotion to his girlfriend, he writes, “My Dear, I would climb the highest mountain, swim the widest stream, cross the burning desert, and I would die at the stake for you.” At the bottom, he writes a post script, “I will see you on Saturday if it doesn’t rain.”
Often times this exemplifies the kind of commitment we have in serving God; “God, I will climb the highest mountain, cross the burning desert, and I would die for you. And, oh yes, I will serve you if I don’t have anything else to do on Saturday.”
God calls us to commit our lives to serving Him with great humility. In my life I learned the value of serving God through the examples of spiritual role models that God has given me. I remember as a youngster watching my dad pour over his Bible lessons, with his Bible opened, studying so that he would be prepared to teach the Word of God in a home Bible study or in an adult Sunday school class. I remember my mom pouring over her Plan-O-Graph so that she would be ready to teach the children stories from the Scriptures. I remember my mom and dad getting us up extra early on some Sunday mornings when no one was there yet; it was that early. We would go into the kitchen and we would begin filling these little cups with juice, preparing for communion so that people could worship God through the Lord’s Supper that day.
My mom and dad had four children and we were all young and it was undoubtedly tough to get them all out of bed extra early. It would have been easy for them to say that it would be great for someone else who doesn’t have children on a Sunday morning, but I saw a model of a commitment to serving God over and over again.
I remember looking at the lives of the commitment of the youth leaders who opened up their homes and spent weekends with junior high and senior high students. I remember looking at their lives and not seeing an obligation, but I saw a joy that they had in serving God. That is what I saw in my parents. That is what I saw in the youth leaders and pastors that God provided for me in my life. Then I learned a commitment of service not just from people I knew and interacted with, but also from people I didn’t know. I would read books about people like Hudson Taylor, Jim Elliott, or Gladys Alworth and from them I would read that they were high schoolers, collage-age students, or young adults just as I was. I saw the great commitment and enthusiasm that they had for serving God and of the joy that they found in it. That caused me all the more to think that this is where life is; life is found in serving God and it urged me on to commit myself to serving Him.
It is doubtful that anyone makes a commitment to serving God in their life apart from the influence of a spiritual role model and I would ask you to think of the people who look to you as a role model example in their lives and think not only of the opportunities to serve God and the effect that that service has in bringing glory to God, but also to think about the effect that young eyes who are watching you, almost imperceptibly at times when we are not even aware they are watching but they are, and the opportunity that we have to influence generation.
Notice the attitude that marks Paul’s service. He says that he serves the Lord with great humility and with tears. The King James Version says “with all humility”. What does that mean? Why didn’t Paul just say, “I serve the Lord with humility.” I believe that Paul wants us to understand that there are all kinds of humility and Paul is saying that he has devoted himself to serving God so that his life would be free of pride in every facet.
What kinds of humility might there be? One kind of humility is the humility of a learner and a humility that recognizes that they don’t know all there is to know about life and they aren’t absolutely certain that their reasoning or past education or own logic is sufficient. They want to learn what God has for them to learn. A proud servant is a servant that is seldom in the Scriptures. A proud servant is one who operates with pre-conceived ideas with regards to what right, what is true, and what isn’t true. It is the humble servant who says that they don’t know these things and the only way that they are going to know the truth is if they humble themselves before what God reveals to be true. They are not going to trust in their own understanding on how to do ministry or in what to believe. They are going to rely and lean upon God and His revelation. That is the humility of a learner.
Another kind of humility is the humility of the beggar. This humility attaches no value to the merit of our works. In other words, we don’t serve God in order to gain a right standing with God as though we could somehow make God our debtor. We don’t say, “God, this is how I am going to serve you and this is what you should do for me in exchange for the currency of my work.” That is a proud service!
God calls us to serve Him in all humility, recognizing that our righteousness has no bearing upon our standing and our acceptance before God. The only thing that matters is the righteousness that Christ offers us freely by His grace, and as a beggar we come before God with empty hands, not with our own good works in our hands saying, “God, here are some things that you might enjoy. Now give me some things that I might enjoy,” but rather we come with empty hands, the hands of a beggar, saying, “Lord, I need you and I need you to provide me with your grace, your forgiveness, your sustenance, your life, and your power. Apart from that I won’t be able to serve you.”
The Apostle Paul said that everything he did in his past life he considers loss. Paul did a lot of service that he thought was for God and to God, but it wasn’t because it was the service of a proud man and a man who was self-righteous. Once we understand that we are beggars before God that changes the way that we serve; we serve as sinners who are saved by grace. We recognize that any gifts and talents that we have for ministry are gifts and talents that are given to us by God and there is no room for pride or to be puffed up about them. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:7, NIV,
7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
If some good effect comes as a result of your service and there is some bit of praise that comes back to you from other people as a result of your work in God’s Kingdom, remember that it is all unto the praise of God because we didn’t have anything to do with it; we only use that which is given to us. The psalmist would write, “Not unto us, but to Thy name be praise.”
A beggar never boasts about his possessions. Even as he accumulates things he doesn’t boast. Why? He knows the only reason why he has accumulated things is because someone else had given it to him. That is what we are – we are beggars and although we accumulate treasures we don’t boast in ourselves in that treasure because we didn’t earn it. We boast in the One who freely gave it to us. We cast everything back to the goodness and the graciousness and to the praise of God.
The last type of humility is the humility of a thankful heart: this in one who always gives thanks for the opportunity to serve. We see service not as an obligation but a humble servant sees service as an opportunity. This is a special, sacred privilege to be in the service of God and His Kingdom. God is not lucky to have us, but we are blessed and graced to have Him to be a part of the work that He is doing.
Pride easily becomes resentful in the midst of service to God. Do you think that when you serve God you will receive more hardships, more frustrations, and more criticisms because you serve? The answer to that is, “Yes, you will.” If you serve God faithfully in your lives you will receive more hardships, more sufferings, more criticism than if you didn’t serve God at all. If you go to God in service with a proud heart, that proud heart will say what hardship and criticism and disappointment and frustration came to you. The proud heart will say, “Fine, if that is the way that it is then I am not going to participate anymore. I don’t want this hardship and I can do without it.” It is possible to live a live apart from the hardship that comes from serving God and a proud heart will always stop short of the goal and will always in some point in life quit and cease to serve.
That is the reason why Paul said that he served the Lord in all humility. If Paul didn’t have that attitude he would have stopped way short before Miletus, but Paul understood and he thanked God for everything. Was there hardship? Yes, but he thanked God that he could share in the sufferings of Jesus Christ. Was there criticism? Yes, but he thanked God that He stood by him when everybody else failed him. It is the service of humility that comes from a thankful heart that invigorated Paul’s joy.
Notice, also, that Paul served not only with all humility, but with tears. That is to tell us that Paul didn’t just care about the task, but that he cared about the people and when we serve God it is important that we don’t loose sight of what is important; what is important to God and His glory and what is important to people. Paul is given a huge task to establish Christianity in the western world. Who wouldn’t get excited about a task like that, to be the first to deliver the Gospel to the Gentiles and to new cities? As exciting as this was Paul never lost sight of what was important and that was the people that were in those cities. It was not that he could boast that he started churches in Ephesus and Asia and Turkey and in the western world, but it was with tears that he was serving God knowing that there were people who were either being redeemed as a result of receiving the Gospel or who were perishing as a result of rejecting the Gospel. It was with tears Paul served because he cared for people. Let us imitate Paul in this.
The second trait we will look at is that spiritual role models possess a public confession of God’s Gospel. We read in Verses 20 and 21,
20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.
Paul was not into just big meetings. God gave him the opportunity to preach in big meetings but he also humbly went from house to house and individual to individual to talk to people. No person was “too insignificant” that he wouldn’t stay at their house and talk to them about the Gospel. Paul made a public confession of the Gospel, both in big meetings and also house to house. What did Paul say? We see in Verse 21,
21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
Paul’s truth, as he proclaimed it, was not just in elementary principles that God had in the Gospel. In Verse 27 Paul will say,
27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
In Paul’s teaching ministry, he put many cookies on the bottom shelf so that even the convert could come up and enjoy them, but he also spent time putting cookies on the middle shelf and way up high so that the most scholarly would have to reach up and spend time meditating, to listen to, and to learn from the hard things from Paul. Paul’s teaching was not simplistic. It was comprehensive, but in the midst of having a depth behind the truth that he taught to the people of God Paul was very clear. He never lost his clarity and sometimes that a difficult task to plumb the depths of the truth of God’s Words and yet maintain the clarity behind the message.
The clarity behind the message is found in Verse 21. There are two essential conditions that God calls every man, woman, and child to: it is repentance towards God, as it says in the King James Version; and faith in Jesus Christ. These two elements are inseparably linked together and are conditions in order to enter into the life of God and in the grace of God in our salvation. These two elements follow with us, not just as an initial response to God as we come to faith in Jesus Christ and we become part of God’s family and that we are born again, but these two elements walk with us throughout our lives up until the day we die. We need repentance and faith walking together with us.
Even as a door and a hinge are connected together and work together, so is repentance and faith. Repentance is the door and faith is the hinge and each without the other has no usefulness, so repentance and faith together have great effectiveness. This is what Paul taught.
What is repentance towards God? On this subject there is much confusion today. Let’s consider three mistaken concepts of repentance. First, biblical repentance is not the same as shame over sin. The little boy who was told not to eat any cookies found his hand in the cookie jar and a soon as he looks up and sees his mother his face will grow red and shame covers him. That is an appropriate response but it is not repentance. Many unrepentant hearts still feel shame over their sin when they are discovered; shame that comes from loosing the respect and esteem from our fellow man when we are found out in our sin by our fellow man.
Second, biblical repentance is not the same as sadness over the pain that sin brings. There are some sins that, when they are planted in a life, spring up rather quickly and the harvest of their bitter fruit is very soon in one’s life, and one, even in a short time after that sin, has to suffer the painful consequences of eating the fruit that they had planted earlier through a sin. For instance, the adulterer who is discovered feels the pain over having lost his spouse and his family as a result of a sinful act, but feeling the pain over the sin and the regretfulness over the pain is not the same as repentance. A thief who steals from her company and is found out suffers the pain of loosing her job and loosing her career, but that is not the same as biblical repentance.
The third mistaken understanding of repentance is that biblical repentance is not the same as fearing the future judgment of God for sin. A person who looks at their sin, considers eternity, and becomes frightened because they have not lived up to God’s standards, they wish to be free from punishment from God for their sin, but again, that is not biblical repentance.
All of these are appropriate responses towards sin, but they are incomplete in and of themselves. A person who gladly would be free from the punishment, but who is not concerned about being free from the sin itself, is still unrepentant. God calls us in repentance and to wish to be free not just from the guilt of sin, the painful consequence of sin in this life, and the future judgment of sin that is to come in our lives, but to be free. Repentance means that we want to be free from sin itself so that even if we would never be caught, and even if there would be no temporal consequences of pain as a result of our sin, and even if God wouldn’t hold me accountable of our sin, repentance says that we want to be free from sin and we want it out and gone. Only God can bring that kind of repentance.
Paul calls it “repentance toward God” because all sin is toward God. All sin is a misrepresentation of God and it reveals that we despise God, that we rebel against God, and that we offend God. This is why our sin is so exceedingly sinful. It is done against an infinitely Holy Being, God Himself. So, what is repentance? It is a turning away from sin itself, wishing for God to free us, not just from the punishment of sin but from sin. It is an awareness that our sin is an infinite offence against an awesomely gracious God.
Charles Spurgeon would say this, “Evangelical repentance is a repentance of sin as sin, not of this sin or of that sin, but of the whole mass. We repent of the sin of our nature as well as the sin of our practice. We bemoan sin within us and without us. We repent of sin itself as being an insult to God. Anything short of this is a mere surface repentance and not a repentance which reaches to the bottom of the mischief. Repentance of the evil act and not of the evil heart is like men pumping water out of a leaky vessel but forgetting to stop the leak.”
I ask you, have you repented toward God? This is a requirement to enter into God’s family and it is a practice of every faithful believer from the moment they are born again to the day they die because there are always sins to repent of; longing to be free and longing to be holy.
The second essential element is that there must be faith in Jesus Christ and believing in Jesus Christ as Savior and as Lord and having a personal appropriation of Jesus’ work into our lives. Repentance causes us to feel the weight of sin upon our back and longing to be free of the weight itself. Faith in Jesus Christ liberates us and it cuts the rope that binds our sins to us. Repentance and faith work together to bring salvation from God full, and rich, and free. God is the One who provided a sacrifice for our sin. The God we have offended and the God we have rebelled against is the same God who graciously reaches out to us.
Here is a trustworthy saying: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Isn’t that good news? That is the message of grace and if you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you will be saved, you will be forgiven, and you will be relieved of the burden of sin in your heart and in your life. This is our certain future. This is our present joy.
What does it mean to “believe”? What does it mean to have faith in Jesus Christ? Faith in Jesus Christ is not merely an agreement to Jesus’ person and His work. It is not merely looking at Jesus and agreeing that Jesus was born of a virgin, that Jesus lead a sinless life, that He died on the cross, that He was buried, that He rose from the dead, and that He ascended into Heaven. Faith is not merely an agreement. Faith is not also merely an understanding of our needs; we know we need a Savior, we know that we need Jesus. Faith also is not merely an affirmation that Jesus can save or that He will save those who believe in Him. Yes, I believe that when people come to faith in Jesus that they are really serious, but these are not biblical faiths.
Biblical faith is personal and it is the resting one’s life upon Jesus in such a way that He is your only hope and He is your only plea. I have used this illustration before, but I believe it is helpful. Imagine that I ask you to come into my office and I offer you a chair. You go to sit and you hear a “creak” and then a “crack” and it breaks underneath you. You fall onto the floor and you become injured. I pick you up and take you to the hospital where they bind up your wounds. Three weeks later you return to my office and I explain to you that they chair that broke has been mended and I describe the process that included someone I knew who knew what they were doing who could help me. I tell you that the chair, now, will not break. I offer you the chair, but you still feel the pain from the last remnant of that chair and you offer your belief, but you sit in another chair. I ask you if you believed me and you said you did and you believe that the chair would hold you up and that I repaired it and that it is strong enough, but you say that you prefer to sit in another chair.
That is not faith. Faith means that when Jesus, who never breaks by the way, says in Matthew 11, NASB,
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
Faith means that we look at Jesus and confess, “Yes, I believe that He is strong enough to hold me up and, yes, I believe that He died on the cross as a sacrifice for my sin. Yes, I believe that He rose the third day and ascended into Heaven to be King of kings and Lord of lords.” Faith means that we cast the whole weight of our soul upon Him.
It is possible in the illustration about the chair that you wouldn’t want to offend me and you go over to it and sit on it gingerly. You are resting on the haunches of your legs and you are not releasing yourself to the strength of that chair. That is not faith. That is what people do who want to trust and believe in their own works, and yet also in Jesus. They sit and they look as thought they are resting in Jesus but they are really resting and counting upon their own works.
Faith means that we confess, “Jesus, I cast my whole self and my whole being into you and if you don’t hold me up and save me from my sins, there is no ‘Plan B’. I have no other plan and I will fall not just now, but I will fall eternally because you are the only One that I am counting on to save me from my sins.”
Let me ask you, “Do you believe in Jesus and do you own a repentance towards God and a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?” Here is a trustworthy saying, in 1 Timothy 1:15,
15 Here is a trustworthy saying…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…
That is good news because that is who we are! You are a role model. Someone is looking to you and someone is being influenced by the way you talk, by the way you act, and by the way you live your life. Beloved, let us with Paul rejoice that we can be a spiritual role model and let us commit ourselves to serving God humbly so that others will be drawn into the service of our King. Let us commit ourselves to publically confessing God’s Gospel – the Good News. It is in this that the church grows. It is in this that Jesus’ name is praised. It is in this that we rejoice in God our King.